John E. Hoover: Serving his country half a world away on Super Bowl Sunday
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
1/22/13 at 7:18 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Super Bowl Sunday, half a world away
He was born the Friday before Super Bowl XVI, Jan. 22, 1982.
Naturally, he was a 49ers fan.
He sort of missed that big game, but he may catch the next one - even though he'll have to watch it at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Anthony Jumper is a Niners fan, a Sooners fan and a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.
He's also my nephew.
On Tuesday, Jumper turns 31. It's his first birthday (and first New Year's and Christmas and Thanksgiving, et al) away from home, away from family and friends, away from his pretty wife and two beautiful young children. Like thousands of American military heroes just like him, he's half a world away from loved ones. He misses them every day.
He also misses sports.
Jumper was born in Ada, grew up in Tulsa, graduated from Union, played trumpet in The Pride at OU and joined the Air Force in 2007.
Jumper's life before the Air Force revolved around sports.
Ada, 65 miles southeast of Norman, is something of an OU stronghold, so he grew up following the Sooners. He also fell in with the New York Yankees at a young age, and we attended Yankees games when we could.
In 1998, the year the Yanks started Joe Torre's World Series dynasty, we were at The Ballpark in Arlington. El Duque pitched for the Bombers, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius and Jorge Posada (twice) homered for New York, but the Rangers won 12-10.
Ten years later, in the final season of old Yankee Stadium, he flew up from his base in Virginia and we met up again in the Bronx.
The next day, Zack Greinke started for the Royals, Mariano Rivera pitched two innings of relief for the Yanks and Brett Gardner's two-out single to left field scored Robinson Cano in the 13th inning for a 3-2 New York win.
As a young Niners fan, Jumper adored Joe Montana. So when Montana was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, we drove to Canton, Ohio, to witness the grandeur. Howie Long and Dan Rooney were among the other inductees, but the weekend was a distinct San Francisco treat: Niners luminaries Ronnie Lott and Dave Wilcox were also enshrined, and team owner Edward DeBartolo, accompanied by hundreds from his nearby hometown of Youngstown, introduced Montana.
In his speech, Montana thanked, among others, Sooners legend Merv Johnson, who was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame during Montana's senior year in South Bend. From seventh on the depth chart, Johnson helped Montana rally to become a legend. After that comeback, beating Houston in the Cotton Bowl or Cincinnati in the Super Bowl was no big deal.
Only a few months earlier, during his senior year at Union, Jumper had decided he would pursue a music degree at Oklahoma State University. I asked him a simple question: No offense to OSU or anyone else, but if he had been a fervent Sooner fan all his life, then why would he not go to school at OU?
He shook his head and said, "Oh yeah," in the kind of way that teenagers do about such things, then went to OU and sat ringside at every game for Bob Stoops' most glorious stretch, 2000-04, when the Sooners went 60-7, won three Big 12 Conference championships, one national championship and two runners-up.
It was a good choice that led to another: The Pride was where Jumper met his wife, Mindy. While he played trumpet, she carried the Colorado flag at every game for four years (she was a bit sad when the Buffaloes bolted to the Pac-12). She's a military wife now, home in Edmond with her 4-year-old and 2-year-old while her husband searches for terrorists from 30,000 feet.
Now beginning his sixth year in the Air Force, Jumper still gets to games occasionally.
He flew south in 2009 for the Sooners' loss at Miami, and made a similar trip in 2011 when OU won at Florida State. Shore leave usually comes in September or October, which means a nonconference home game or two or maybe even another Red River Rivalry.
Jumper expects he will be on the ground come Super Bowl Sunday but may be asleep during the game. Turns out the base is well ahead of us in time zones, so the kickoff will be on a Monday morning, and he typically spends Monday mornings in the air.
Also, American Forces Network doesn't carry "all the cool commercials," he says, just another of the small measures that add up to a big difference for American military living overseas.
Bagram sits in a valley, surrounded on all sides by Afghanistan's notorious mountains, about 30 miles north of Kabul, an insurgent hotspot. The base itself occasionally has been the target of Taliban rocket or mortar attacks. My nephew is just over halfway through his six-month tour.
As American military families and veterans are all too painfully aware, many of our men and women serving overseas feel lonely, emotionally isolated, homesick for the life they knew before. Daily Skype calls back home help, but a manifest detachment remains. To most of us, their sacrifice is unknowable.
And most are not warriors, not by nature. They're us: they're fathers and mothers, they're Redskins and Sooners, they're Oklahomans and trumpet players.
They're sports fans, working for a living in a faraway and often dangerous land, and at Christmas or on their birthday or on Super Bowl Sunday, we miss them more than ever.